Several mouse models of Alzheimer's disease (AD) with abundant β-amyloid and/or aberrantly phosphorylated tau develop memory impairments. However, multiple non-mnemonic cognitive domains such as attention and executive control are also compromised early in AD individuals. Currently, it is unclear whether mutations in the β-amyloid precursor protein (APP) and tau are sufficient to cause similar, AD-like attention deficits in mouse models of the disease. To address this question, we tested 3xTgAD mice (which express APPswe, PS1M146V, and tauP301L mutations) and wild-type control mice on a newly developed touchscreen-based 5-choice serial reaction time test of attention and response control. The 3xTgAD mice attended less accurately to short, spatially unpredictable stimuli when the attentional demand of the task was high, and also showed a general tendency to make more perseverative responses than wild-type mice. The attentional impairment of 3xTgAD mice was comparable to that of AD patients in two aspects: first, although 3xTgAD mice initially responded as accurately as wild-type mice, they subsequently failed to sustain their attention over the duration of the task; second, the ability to sustain attention was enhanced by the cholinesterase inhibitor donepezil (Aricept). These findings demonstrate that familial AD mutations not only affect memory, but also cause significant impairments in attention, a cognitive domain supported by the prefrontal cortex and its afferents. Because attention deficits are likely to affect memory encoding and other cognitive abilities, our findings have important consequences for the assessment of disease mechanisms and therapeutics in animal models of AD.
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